Monday, July 4, 2016

"The Prestige" (2006)

Every once a while a trend emerges in Hollywood. Multiple projects about the same subject or theme will coincidentally be released around the same time. Back in 2006 and again in 2013, pairs of magic themed movies were released. In all four cases they were pretty much popcorn fare, even though we got four distinct stylistic approaches to the subject (comic, action, period drama, and sci-fi mystery.)

So I have this ongoing disagreement with my eldest. He thinks “The Presitge” is one of Nolan’s best ever films. For me it is decidedly down on the list. I dislike it quite a bit.

Why? Well, I have tried to decide exactly that—beyond just a gut feeling dislike—for some time now.

My first argument would be that it is unfairly and unnecessarily muddled. Don’t get me wrong, I like an out-of-sequence story as much as the next guy. But in many cases that technique takes a normal story and makes it fun. “Pulp Fiction” for example, has the audience constantly experiencing “aha’ moments as causes to already known effects are revealed. However, in that case and others like it, we aren’t trying to solve a puzzle. We are just enjoying a story come together out of a chaotic presentation. In “The Prestige” we are promised a puzzle, but the only puzzle we get is in the delivery. Told in sequence, there would be no doubts about what is going on. It is a bit of a cheat.

But to be fair, this is both a story about an illusion and a Chris Nolan film, so allowances must be made. In fact, that it is a Nolan film and so relatively obvious has a lot of people trying to complicate it further than needed. But that isn’t the source of my frustration either.

Then there is the apparent flaw in the logic of the story itself. (Spoilers for the story follow if you haven’t seen it. You’ve been warned!) If Jackman’s character is able to clone himself, why not use a clone in the same way that Bale’s character used his twin? According to the story, both the original and the clone have the same mental state and memory. It would even seem a more desirable situation than what Bale’s twins were experiencing. And, there would be no unpleasantness involving a nightly suicide. But that eliminates the “poetic” justice involving the wife’s death at the start of the film and the framed murder element. So that wouldn’t really work thematically.

And the more I think about it that is where my repulsion lies. I understand the desire to tell a story about obsession ruining two (or three) men’s lives. But I can’t stomach the level to which this destruction goes. It is bad enough to think of the twins sacrificing everything for an illusion. But the clone thing asks too much of my mind. And it isn’t just a suspension of disbelief thing—though the concept is not really earned at all in the film. I can’t begin to accept the duplication of a being without any exploration of the soul aspect. Jackman’s Angier is certainly despicable and clearly the villain of the piece. You could perhaps even argue that he is soulless. But this film and the way it awkwardly handles cloning presents us with a completely material world where no one has a soul. For some reason it is a puzzle and a story that for me is a bridge to far for enjoyment.

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